BPSU study - Listeria infection in infants

Surveillance of listeria infection in infants less than 90 days commenced in September 2017. The study aims to establish the incidence of listeria infection in young infants, define whether some ethnic groups or geographical areas are more affected and describe the management and clinical outcome of the infected babies in the UK and ROI. Results will inform national antibiotic policy for young infants.

A paper has now been published in the Archives Of Disease In Childhood. Link to the abstract can be found below.

Lead investigators

Dr Stefania Vergnano
Bristol Royal Hospital For Children
Level 6, UBHT Education Centre
Upper Maudlin Street
Bristol BS2 8AE
Email: stefania.vergnano@uhbristol.nhs.uk

Professor Paul T Heath
Professor of Paediatric Infectious Diseases
Paediatric Infectious Diseases Research Group, Division of Clinical Sciences, Jenner Wing, Level 2, Room 2.213
St Georges, University of London
London SW17 0RE

About the study


Listeria is a rare bacterial infection that affects mostly immunocompromised individuals, including young babies. Pregnant women can become infected by eating contaminated food, such as fresh cheese and unpasteurised milk, and may then pass on the infection to their unborn babies, causing miscarriages, stillbirths or severe disease with high mortality and neurodevelopmental consequences in newborns. Currently the exact epidemiology and clinical outcome are not clear and it is possible that the infection is becoming more common in selected ethnic groups.

Current national guidelines (e.g. the NICE guidelines), advising doctors on antibiotic treatment for babies younger than three months, recommend an antibiotic combination that will treat listeria infection. However, a recent national study of meningitis showed listeria only in babies younger than one month, raising the possibility that the current guidelines may be exposing thousands of babies between two and three months of age to unnecessary additional antibiotics.

The study aims to establish the incidence of proven and possible listeria, age, geographical and ethnic distribution, management and outcome at diagnosis and at one year follow up. This data will inform national antibiotic policies for infants under 90 days and prevention strategies in pregnancy.

You can download the protocol card, including references, below.

Webinars and publications

In November 2022, Professor Paul Heath and Doctor Stefania Vergnano led a webinar on Listeria infection in Young Infants in the context of neonatal infections:

Case definition

Any infant of 90 days of age or less with:

  1. a clinical diagnosis of invasive listeria infection according to the treating clinician, OR
  2. with suspected listeria infection treated for at least five days with appropriate antibiotics

Published Papers

S Vergnano, G Godbole, A Simbo, A Smith-Palmer, M Cormican, A Mark and P Heath. 'Listeria infection in young infants: results from a national surveillance study in the UK and Ireland'. Archives Of Disease In Childhood. 2021.

Reporting instructions

Please report any child who meets the case definition in the UK or the ROI.


September 2017-September 2019 (25 months of surveillance). Follow-up until September 2020 (12 month follow-up).


This study is being funded through St George’s University of London.


This study has been approved by Yorkshire and the Humber – South Yorkshire REC (REC reference: 16/YH/0491) and has been granted Section 251 HRA-CAG permission (CAG Reference: 17/CAG/0029).

This study has been granted Public Benefit and Privacy Panel for Health and Social Care (PBPP) approval in Scotland (PBPP reference: 1516-0292).

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